The Disaster Artist: My Life inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie ever made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell

Courtesy of Chicksdigbooks.com

Courtesy of Chicksdigbooks.com

I remember the first time I saw the majesty that was Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. My friend’s and I had gather at an ex’s apartment, my best friend had bought the Rifftrax for the film (if you don’t know what that is, please look them up it’s a video “commentary” by those who made Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its amazing) and we sat down on a cold Saturday night to watch it. We were rather boring 20 year olds, I must say. What greeted our eyes was nothing short than horrifyingly hysterical. For the entire time the film was playing we could hardly stop laughing. What stemmed from this viewing was countless trips to the Oaks Theatre in Oakmont, Pa, just outside of Pittsburgh for countless views of The Room, during which we threw spoons and bottles, cried out famous lines and had a truly wonderful experience.

When I first heard that the secondary male lead in the film, the handsome, Greg Sestero was writing a book about his experience in the The Room, I was understandably ecstatic. Such an outrageously odd and bizarre film had to have had just an equally odd and bizarre story behind it. For about a year I waited in rapt anticipation for its release. When it did finally come I out I immediately purchased a digital copy and began to dive into a world that was so much different from what I expected.

To start off the book is not just about the making of the titular movie. Chapters alternate from the making of the film as well as Sestero’s attempts at starting an acting carrier as well as his friendship with the film’s mysterious creator, Tommy Wiseau. When I first discovered that this was how the rest of the book would go I was kinda disappointed. I mean actor biographies don’t interest me at all. I mean if I’m gonna read a biography I want it to be about someone who actually made a difference in the world in some negative or positive respect, not of someone who’s major contribution was to imitate life for viewing on a screen. However after the first two chapters I was surprised to find myself completely engrossed in the story of a young actor (Sestero) going against his mother’s wishes and striving to become an actor. What it eventually became was not a story of success at all either, it’s the story of a failed actor in Hollywood, a fact of life there that is too often ignored, or when it is acknowledged, made fun of. While the chapters that are about the making of the film are extremely funny, they are tempered by Sestero’s story of eventual mediocrity. What is great about this is that Sestero completely acknowledges this and he seems to be completely accepting of this fact. This gave me a lot of respect for him because he turned his failure into something amazing through this book. It actually becomes inspirational towards the end because despite his failing Sestero obviously does not regret his actions as they helped him to become the person he is today.

Along with Sestero’s story we get to learn a lot about Tommy Wiseau himself, his is just as inspirational as Sestero’s. It is revealed that Wiseau was born in Eastern Europe during the Stalin Era and was able to be one of the lucky few to make it to the USA, although he does have a brief terrible stint in France. Here in the USA he strives to become an actor and despite his distressing inability to act at all, he manages to make his own movie, although he does become a successful clothes retailer which in the end helps him to fund his film. Throughout the book you learn his rather odd behaviors, such as ordering hot water at restaurants and spying on his actors while filming. Despite all this, Sestero tells a tale of a man who follows his dream to such a die-hard degree that he actually pulls it off. While his film never becomes the thought provoking drama that movies such as Rebel without a Cause or The Talented Mr. Ripley as he intended it to be, his own film becomes just as famous in some respects.

One of the things I loved about this book is how it was written. It’s written in such a way that it’s almost like you’re talking with Sestero himself. This is definetly a credit to both Sestero and Tom Bissell, the co-writer of the book. Also, I enjoyed his explanations of how a movie set is set up as well as the mini backgrounds he gives about the people he interacts with throughout his tale. His description of living as an out of work actor in Los Angeles is also very believable. You can almost see yourself in his shoes looking for a part time job, just so you can afford to eat every day. The aspects of his relationship with Tommy Wiseau is also very heart wrenching to some degree. You can obviously tell that he genuinely cares about Mr. Wiseau and that he is happy for him. This actually surprised me, as I expected the book to be a criticism of Wiseau. I’m actually happy that this genuine care is what is presented in the story and not the negativity that we see in a lot of Tell All books. It endears you more to the people involved and adds an aura of believability that you can’t get in other Tell All books where the authors try to distance themselves from others to such a degree that you have to wonder how much of the truth they’re stretching.

I also enjoyed the trivia you learn about the making of the film, such as the fact that certain takes took literally hours to shoot, along with explanations with the obvious problems that occur throughout the film as well. There were numerous times were I found myself giggling to myself while reading these scenes, which is welcome as most books take a lot to make me openly laugh. I also enjoyed many of the pictures that were in the book that showed scenes from the making of the movie as well as from points in Sestero’s and Wiseau’s friendship.

I eagerly suggest this book to any and all fans of The Room as well as anyone interested in biographies as well as books about the making of famous films. Be ready for a wild ride.

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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Ian Kenny is a senior psychology major, tutor, and bookstore lurker. He listens to a shitload of music, reads ravenously, and is teaching himself several languages and musical instruments when he can tear himself away from Khan Academy. He recently founded a religion with the sole intent of messing with the future.

Reza Aslan’s “Zealot” recounts the life, exploits, and impact of the homeless, illiterate, reactionary, rabble-rouser, known to history as Jesus of Nazareth, and how he was gradually transformed over a period of several hundred years into the ethereal, divine, pacifistic religious figure known to billions of Christians today as Jesus Christ. While very little definite information exists about Jesus of Nazareth, “Zealot” summarizes an exhaustive quantity of historical analysis, documentation, and biblical research in an effort to clarify and describe the man Jesus actually was to the best of our modern ability (because, surprise, surprise, he is almost nothing like Jesus Christ).

The book is divided into three parts, the first of which establishes the historical and political context in which Jesus lived. But fear not, loathers of history, there is more than enough rioting, protesting, civilian slaughter, bloodshed, beheadings, crucifixions, mass suicides, roving assassin gangs, wandering prophets (dozens), political drama, warring armies, insurrections, widespread destruction, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and religious zealotry to make you think you’re reading Game of Thrones. Rome occupies the Jewish homeland and uses the center of the Jewish cult’s faith (the Temple of Jerusalem) to maintain hegemony over the Jewish masses, many of whom are royally resentful of Rome for daring to occupy the land their God said they could have (the same land that their God also told them to keep free of non-Jewish foreigner scum). In a cycle that repeats many times over, prophets decry the heathen hegemony emanating from the Temple of Jerusalem, then declare the Temple, the priests, and the rule of Rome invalid, then try to inspire an organized Jewish revolt before they are killed by Rome. Jesus was one of several illiterate, homeless, acetic peasant leaders (the book mentions another 5 or 6 by name who are known to history) claiming to be the one prophesized to liberate the Jews from Roman rule and set up the Kingdom of God on Earth who were killed without fulfilling a single one of these prophesies.

It isn’t until the second part of the book that we abandon the macro-historical analysis of the time period and focus in on the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the impact he made in this period of time in the world. Details are sketchy, but Jesus of Nazareth was very much interested in resorting to organized revolt and employing violence to free the Jews from Roman rule. The book casts doubt upon the historical accuracy of many of the more famous tales associated with Jesus Christ the religious figure, including the born-of-a-perpetual-virgin claim (Jesus had several brothers, one of whom, James, is a fairly well known Jewish historical figure, who was instrumental in preserving Jesus’s teachings after the death of his brother), or his discussion with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate before his execution. The book clarifies the context of many of his more famous sayings, for example, his “love thy neighbor as yourself” line was intended to tell Jews how to treat other Jews, not how to treat everybody. The books suggests that Jesus did actually ride into Jerusalem and trash the Temple in a badass fit of rage, and was executed (though he likely had no touching conversation with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, a cold and cruel man who hated Jews with a passion and had executed many thousands of Jews for protest or sedition, and would have had no reason to personally see Jesus for anything beyond signing his execution paperwork). The book frequently emphasizes that none of the famous biblical accounts of Jesus were written during Jesus’s lifetime, nor were any of them written by people who knew Jesus when he was alive.

This brings us to the third part of the book, which describes how Jesus of Nazareth, unlike the many dozens of other failed Messiahs, came to be remembered for thousands of years after his death and spawn one of the most popular religious movements in the world. The reasons mostly boil down to his followers being scattered and dispersed throughout Rome after Rome finally lost its patience and leveled Jerusalem. Jesus of Nazareth, having been a reactionary protester, was not nearly as popular after the failed Jewish revolt, and was thus recast as Jesus Christ the pacifist, an otherworldly vessel of God incarnate who was above caring about worldly affairs. The third part of “Zealot” describes how little by little, over the course of decades after Jesus’s death and the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus of Nazareth was re-invented as Jesus Christ, and all traces of Jesus of Nazareth’s roots in the Jewish independence movement were obscured and forgotten. It was in this period when the Jesus Christ we know of today was formed, and huge religious trends associated with mainstream Christianity were set in motion that still effect our lives today on a massive scale. One of the most disturbing revelations for me was the fact that Jesus’s famous talk with Pontius Pilate, in which he explicitly blames the Jews for killing him, was added to the gospels during this time to take the blame of his death off of Rome (for these books were being written by Christians trying to convert Romans). Images of the Holocaust and of Mel Gibson’s drunken ramblings flew through my head at this point, and I marveled with loathing at how such inconsequential editing choices made today can contribute to massive waves of racism, ignorance, hatred and death thousands of years in the future.

Zealot” is relatively short (216 pages, followed by 60 pages of copious notes) and would be a great read for anyone interested in getting an introduction to the obscure, surprising history behind one of the world’s most beloved religious figures. To anyone who heavily relies on the Bible being an infallible historically accurate account of the life of Jesus, this book will likely piss you off beyond measure. To accomplished religious scholars, this book will likely come off as a brief summary that could have gone into much more detail and analysis, but there is plenty of information on historical accounts, historical and religious documents, and translation discussions in the vast notes section of the book. This book humanized Jesus in a way the gospels never could (which is understandable, considering the point of the gospels is to convince you that Jesus is God and perfection incarnate). To any who feel that I’ve included too much plot summary in the book, I assure you I have barely scratched the surface; there is far more information, drama, and intrigue beyond what I have told. In addition to recommending this book, I also recommend you check out the absurd and unintentionally hilarious Fox News “interview” with Reza Aslan on the topic of this book.

The Early History of Moveable Print

Civilization is the printed word. This is because printed literature, both fiction and non-fiction, not only spread knowledge more easily and readily to the masses, but it also makes political and societal governance more easily to achieve as well. Imagine if your local government was attempting to send you a notice through verbal message or if you had to file your taxes all through hand-written documents. What if the messanger got the message wrong, or the writer of your tax documents made a mistake or left something out? The level of literacy in your nation would probably be much lower than it is today as well. Organized society as we know it would not be possible. The fact that civilization has progressed to the point it has today, with me typing this essay on a computer, is largely thanks to the organized printing of words centuries ago. The following is a history of moveable print from its beginnings in Asia to the beginning of Moveable Type in Europe.

The first instance of printing in any form appeared centuries ago in Asia. This was block printing. This is where a wood block with a letter, image, or pattern carved in its face is covered in ink and pressed on to cloth or paper (an example of a woodblock used for making patterns can be seen above). The first instance of this form of printing first appeared in Korea during the Silla Kingdom.

Movable type, which is the process of using movable metal components, each with a letter or grammar mark to create an entire document was first used in China around the year 1040. It’s inventor, believed to be Bi Sheng, used porcelain components rather than metal. Unfortunately, China never took complete advantage of this process. This is most likely due the exceptionally large Chinese Alphabet. This process was also developed in Europe around 1439. It’s inventor is believed to be the famous Johannes Gutenberg, creator of the famous Gutenberg Bible (of which one can bee seen above), however claims that he was not the first have arisen over the years, in some cases with evidence supporting the claims. This process was fully utilized by the Europeans and helped to begin the Renaissance.

From the invention and adequate use of movable print in Europe printing literally took off and became widely used across the continent. When colonies were established in the New World across the sea printing presses followed the thousands of colonists on their journeys. The importance of printing cannot be understated. The use of movable print was absolutely necessary to the success of the American Revolution as pamphlets in support of the revolution were able to be printed en mass to garner support from the revolutionaries. Without the printing press the common citizen would have never heard the words of Thomas Paine and other famous revolutionaries.

The world we know today would be impossible without moveable print. Without it we would not be able to spread different ideas as easily and our collective worldview would have a much smaller horizon than we do today. Indeed, the world we would know would be more akin to what was had in the Middle Ages with only a select few being able to read. Our world would have barely advanced and we would still be fighting wars on the backs of horses, and the height of architecture would be fortress castles that we would cower behind in our ignorance. Indeed we have a better world with moveable print.

Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century by Christian Caryl

Courtesy the guardianbookshop.co.uk

Courtesy the guardianbookshop.co.uk

Iran, Afghanistan, China, the Catholic Church, and the Tea Party and its supporters are all constantly in the news. With Iran it’s because of a theocracy building nuclear weapons. In Afghanistan it’s the US’s continuing police action there. China is has become an free market super power despite the pictures of Chairman Mao on the currency. The Catholic Church elected a new Pope, continuing a tradition that goes back thousands of years. The supporters of Free Market Capitalism and preach the glories of the individual continue to fight “leftist” policies. While we deal with all these situations it is easy to forget how we came to this point in history. Why is Iran a theocracy? Why is Afghanistan a failed state? How is China, a self proclaimed Socialist state, a Free Market power house? These questions and more can probably not be easily answered by most people today. Author Christian Caryl attempts to answer these questions as well as stress the importance of those answers in regards to the political make-up of the present time. He argues that the year 1979 was the political turning point that eventually led to the problems that we are dealing with today.

Mr. Caryl notes the year 1979 as very important due to the fact that it was the year that many conservative free market or religious upheavals took place. This is the year that the Shah in Iran was overthrown and replaced with the religious rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. This is the year that Afghan rebels, the Mujahideen, fought back against a Soviet Puppet Government which gave way to the Soviet Union’s own terrible version of Vietnam. Deng Xiaoping became the head of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party and began massive economic reforms that would open China to the world market. At this time a Polish cardinal was elected to the highest office of the Holy Roman Church and began his peaceful crusade against the Communist State that held his country in chains. This was also the year that, in the UK a Labour Government was overthrown and an Iron Lady from the Conservative Party was asked by the Queen to start her own government at 10 Downing Street. This book explains each of these events in a very detailed, but simple manner. This book can be enjoyed by both history buffs as well as someone who isn’t that into the genre. It explains the background of each event as well as the events that led to the massive changes that swept the nations involved.

I must confess, however, that I was saddened at how much more attention was paid to the Islamic Revolutions in Iran and Afghanistan compared to the rise of Margaret Thatcher, Deng Xiaoping and John Paul II. Despite this, I believe that his coverage of Iran and Afghanistan was quite well done. It was definitely a learning experience reading about the event that led to the Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan. Also through this book that despite the set backs Western Forces are facing in Afghanistan at the present that we have been much more successful there than the Soviets ever hoped to be. I eagerly suggest this book to whoever wishes to study the Conservative upswing of the last few years.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle

Credit to Amazon.com

Credit to Amazon.com

There is no more contentious city on the planet than that of Jerusalem in Israel. It is the center of three large scale religions, is claimed as the capital by two countries, and is always in the headlines. With all the controversy and violence that always puts the city in the headlines it is hard to actually view the human aspect of living in the Holy City. Jerusalem gives an interesting look into normal life in the city. This graphic novel tells the story of Guy Delisle’s one year stay in Jerusalem. He is there with his wife who works for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and while she is out working at various hospitals around Israel and Palestine, Mr. Delisle stays in Jerusalem taking care of his children and exploring the city.

Guy Delisle is one of my favorite authors/graphic artists, as his travelogues (which Jerusalem is the most recent) are not only beautifully written and drawn, but also give an amazing insight into the lives of people in foreign countries that people in the West don’t get a chance to experience very often.

The graphic novel is broken into twelve chapters which are based on the month of the year that the events take place. Each chapter has more than a few short stories which are all only two or three pages long at most. Each story tells of a specific interesting instance that Mr. Delisle experiences in his daily life. One interesting story tells how on Yom Kippur all major streets a temporarily blocked off. This is because Yom Kippur (a major Jewish Holiday) is the Sabbaths of Sabbaths and as well all know Sabbaths in all Abrahamic Religions are days of rest. In Israel on this day rest is more or less forced on all, hahaha.

Another more serious story tells about the Israeli Remembrance Day or Yom Hazikaron. This is a state holiday that is Israel’s equivalent of America’s Memorial day. However, this memorial day is expanded to include the victims of the Holocaust as well as and Jews who died in the foundation of Israel as a country since 1860. The main even of the day on this holiday is the moment of silence. During this moment of silence sirens are heard throughout the country and everyone, no matter what they’re doing stop stand up and stand silently for a minute. Everyone is involved in this. Cars on major highways stop and their passengers get out to observe it. A video of this can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80de02Skgdk . In Delisle’s story he witnesses the moment of silence as all those around him stand as the sirens blare. All those, except for tourists he talk loudly and don’t even seem to notice what’s going on.

As well as focusing on Israeli’s Delisle also focuses on the Palestinians who live and work in Jerusalem. Most of these instances are also quite sad as in many of the stories which include Palestinians they are more or less treated as second class citizens. For example Delisle and his family live in a Palestinian district in Jerusalem. Despite the people in the district paying trash pick up taxes to the city, their trash is never picked up and their living standards are noticeably lower than their Jewish Counterparts. I eagerly suggest this book as well as any of Guy Delisle’s other works for anyone who is interested in places that are generally ignored by the mainstream. I suggest this book in particular for anyone who needs a good introduction to the problems of Israel and her sister Palestine.

Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

Courtesy of Texas Public Radio

I am not one to take reading suggestion from a radio show, but when I heard an interview of this book’s author, Bess Lovejoy on the nationally syndicated Coast to Coast AM with George Noory this book sounded not only quite silly, but also rather interesting. This book tells of the fates of the mortal remains of many of Humanity’s most famous people, often in a light-hearted way.

The book is a very easy read, but still maintains a high level of entertainment. I greatly enjoyed the story of Admiral Nelson’s corpse. After his death at Trafalgar, his body was pickled in rum for its trip back to England, rum that the sailor on his ship often drank from…. Another silly tail is about the numerous attempts by counterfeiters to steal and hold the corpse of Abraham Lincoln hostage. A serious tail is about the burning and dumping in the river if the ashes of Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun. The book covers the fates of people from all walks of life from Galileo to Elvis. This book is a wonderful argument for the idea that in death every man is equal.

The book is very well researched as well as wonderfully written. It’s a treasure trove of arcane and creepy facts about the people who are buried as well as many of the burial practices of the times the people mentioned in this book lived in. I eagerly suggest this book to anyone who is interested in the macabre or for a good dark comedy.

Columbine by Dave Cullen

credit to wikkipedia

credit to wikkipedia

Spoilers

The Columbine Tragedy, which occurred on 20 April, 1999, has left a scar on the American Imagination which is continually ripped open again and again every time a school shooting strikes the nation. Just the word “Columbine” is enough to bring images of news clips filmed from a helicopter above a school showing streams of students running from a building which is surrounded by police with guns drawn. The worst part of this is that despite the infamy on that name and the events that occurred at the school that bares that name is that the public a large doesn’t know much that happened there. There are many myths and misconceptions that surround the tragedy as well as the perpetrators that carried the crime out.

In the book Columbine, Dave Cullen, one of the many journalists that covered the event, attempts (and in my opinion largely succeeded) in dispelling the many rumors and myths that surrounded the perpetrators, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, as well as the events that occurred inside the school on that April day. One myth that Mr. Cullen quickly proved false is that a group of “goth students” known as the Trenchcoat Mafia was in some way linked to the event. Another more controversial myth is that one student, Cassie Bernall, affirmed her belief in God after she was asked whether she believed in God by Eric Harris before she was shot. As a result of this belief many Christians as well as her family view her as a Christian Martyr. In Columbine Mr. Cullen proves through witness testimony that while Cassie Bernall was praying at the time of her death Eric Harris never posed this question to her, but to another student, Valeen Schnurr, who survived the shooting.

The narrative tells the story in five parts which attempts to explain the events that led up to, during, and after the event. The book is written to seem almost like a fictional story. The author attempts to get into the minds of the killers through the writings and videos they left behind as well as through discussions with psychological experts. He presents evidence that the first perpetrator, Eric Harris was in fact a psychopath and that the second shooter, Dylan Klebold was suicidally depressed and was just following Harris’s lead. The author also goes on to describe the legal and religious implication that occurred on the local community around Columbine. He also profiles many of the victims as well as their families.

This is one of the few crime books that I have actually enjoyed. The book is beautifully written as well as well researched. The author obviously has sympathy for all those involved including those who perpetrated the event, but while his sympathy is obvious he goes to great lengths to keep the work impartial. This book is a hallmark of the true-crime genre and I believe that it is comparable to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.